During the switch to virtual learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many new learning strategies have popped up to help improve your virtual classroom. However, if you’re a professor who teaches large classes, such as 400 to 600 students, you may be stuck on what to do to improve student experiences. When your class numbers 10-20 students, a weekly lecture can sort of feel like a conference call with your team at work. However, a 400-600 group can easily leave students feeling unnoticed and left behind.
Using the team-based learning strategy can help solve these issues. It starts off with every student learning the class material at their own pace, otherwise known as the flipped classroom approach. The Flipped Classroom Learning Strategy is when instructors prioritize active learning during class time by assigning students lecture materials and presentations to be viewed at home or outside of class. Students consume lectures on their own, while class time is focused on discussion, projects, and workshops.
The Team-based learning strategy is a collaborative learning/teaching strategy that is designed around units of instruction, known as “modules”. These modules are taught in a three-step cycle: preparation, in-class readiness assurance testing, and application-focused exercise.
These learning strategies allow students to first learn information on their own, and then use a group to help further their understanding and ideas.
How to use the Team-Based Learning Strategy:
Start off by explaining these learning strategies in your first day of class. Students will be more willing to pursue and value a strategy if they expect to do well in it. This discussion will prove to your students how important you find these strategies and help them see the benefit of how it’s going to affect the class.
Teamwork can be extremely anxiety provoking. Most students hear the words “group assignment” and start worrying about questions like “How is the team going to be graded?”
Instead of letting the students pick their own teams for group learning, first have them complete a survey. This survey will allow students to answer questions about their personal preferences when it comes to the group project. This will help students’ group together easier based on their personality traits. The survey can include questions like “On a scale of 1-5, how often do you learn better in a team setting?” or “On a scale of 1-5, how often do you remember material from a lecture?”. Some suggestions can also be “How do you like to work in teams?” or “What strengths can you bring to the team?”
After this, the professor will decide which students will be in a group together based on compatible personality traits.
After students are aware of their group members, they must create a team contract. In this contract the expectations of all teammates must be listed. How do they want to work? What platforms do they feel comfortable using? In this contract, the group can determine what strategies they will prefer to use when generating decisions. Should they use a voting system? How will they resolve conflict? The members must communicate their thoughts, and every member must write a rule down. After this is completed, everyone must sign the contract and submit to the professor.
Sometimes, students have preconceived notions about group learning because of previous negative experiences with past team members. It is important to note that conflict in a team is completely healthy. These methods will not completely get rid of disagreements; however, it does present a more organized approach to group work. The contract should also explicitly state that conflicts should first be tried to be solved as a group. If the conflict still does not get resolved, then they can ask the professor or TA for help.
After the contract is made, students can meet in online breakout rooms. This allows them to get to know their teammates a bit better. They can also use this opportunity to exchange contact information.
After the contracts are approved by the professor, each team member must apply themselves to a role in the group. One role can be a reporter and another role can be the team writer. Additionally, there can be a role that is in charge of asking the TA or professor any questions. This avoids massive amounts of students asking the professor or TA questions. Feel free for the students to create any roles they deem necessary. Every week the roles can change.
When it comes to actual class content, the professor must split the course into a number of modules. Each module has its own set of learning outcomes that tie into the course’s overall learning outcomes. Every module has its own specific folder and learning outcomes.
In each module, there are steps to complete. The professor must create podcasts from readings in the required course textbook, summary documents, journals, websites, etc. Create five-to-ten-minute podcasts on topics that are necessary to the course.
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Once the student listens to the module, the professor then distributes small quizzes afterwards on the content. Students must complete the quiz on their own at first, and then another time with their team. As part of their contract, they will have to plan on how the team will virtually meet to complete the quiz.
This process allows the professor to get a good idea of how much students are actually learning.
Through these exams, students can assess themselves and see how much information they are retaining. Sometimes when trying to solve a problem with a teammate, the conversation can spark different information that they may have forgotten about.
After these exams are completed, a problem-solving assignment will be dispersed. As a team, students are asked to apply the content they just learned to new situations. There can also be a set up time throughout the week where a TA can be available to assist teams with any questions. Each assignment must be completed within one week.
To help avoid e-mail clutter, there should be discussion boards for any questions about the course. Students can answer each other’s questions and be rewarded with participation points.
Make sure every assignment is clearly aligned with the course learning and programmatic learning outcomes. The professor must think to themselves, “Do I need to teach this whole topic? Or only teach some of it?” or “How does this topic relate to the main course learning outcomes?”
It may be helpful for professors to ask colleagues who teach classes down the road, how they feel about the assignments. They will be able to give insight on what is important and what is not for future reference.
Let’s get students excited about learning and not be so anxious! There are many fears living through a global pandemic, let school be a safe place to escape and not be faced with more anxiety.